Council’s swing district at stake in Somers, Vallo race

MONROE — Dave Somers wants to address some unfinished business if elected to a third term on the Snohomish County Council.

The Monroe Democrat has emerged as a leader on county land-use issues, in particular an effort to delineate prime farmland from flood-prone areas that can be converted to fish habitat. He wants to continue that work, as well as ongoing planning to help the county absorb a growing population over the next two decades.

“I really enjoy complex issues,” he said.

Somers’ Republican challenger, Chris Vallo of Lake Stevens, is seeking his first election to public office. The real estate broker is focused on limited government, accountable spending and creating jobs. He believes he has the networking and people skills to make it happen.

“What I’d like to bring is new ideas, fresh energy, a common-sense approach,” Vallo said.

Ballots for the Nov. 5 general election are scheduled to be mailed Thursday.

In the August primary, Somers took nearly 56 percent of the vote, Vallo just under 44 percent.

The candidates are competing for one of five County Council seats. Historically, District 5 has been the most likely to switch between Democratic and Republican control. The district covers eastern Snohomish County, including Snohomish, Monroe, Maltby, Sultan, Gold Bar and Index.

In 2009, Somers beat Republican Steve Dana, a former Snohomish City Councilman, squeaking by with almost 52 percent support. The separation between Somers and Dana was 1,519 ballots out of 35,670 cast.

This isn’t Vallo’s first run for county government. In 2011, he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Snohomish County Assessor Cindy Portmann.

Somers, 60, grew up in northern California, but has lived and worked in Snohomish County since the 1970s.

His first job out of college was at the Verlot ranger station near Granite Falls. He later worked as a biologist for the Tulalip Tribes and managed the Pacific Watershed Institute, a nonprofit formed by the state.

Somers earned a master’s degree in forest ecology from the University of Washington in the 1990s, before winning his first County Council election in 1997. He lost to Republican Jeff Sax in 2001, but won a rematch four years later.

During his time on the council, Somers has served as chairman of the council’s Planning and Community Development Committee. He believes in state growth management policies, which aim to create denser cities with efficient transportation networks, while protecting wilderness and natural resource areas.

“I don’t believe in one-acre lots from here to the Cascade Crest,” he said. “You can see what happens in L.A. and it’s not pretty.”

A point of contention between Somers and Vallo is the county’s Smith Island project, an $18 million mostly grant-funded effort to remove dikes, flooding what is now farmland near the mouth of the Snohomish River. The goal is to re-create chinook salmon habitat and improve flood control.

Somers supports the effort, and says the pricetag has risen because of the county’s efforts to accommodate farming interests.

Vallo calls the project a job-killer with limited public benefit. He’d rather see the land used for farming.

“It seems very costly to me,” he said.

During his most recent term, Somers may have stolen some of his Republican opponent’s thunder on budgeting and watchdogging fellow Democrats.

Somers has been an outspoken skeptic of the county’s planning for a new courthouse building, siding with Republican John Koster on the losing end of key votes. He objected to a courthouse remodeling plan, fearing that it hadn’t been studied enough. Now, the county is looking to construct a new building, that might cost up to $130 million rather than the $75 million price discussed only months earlier.

“Frankly, I think the process is all backwards,” Somers said.

In 2011, Somers angered some in his own political party when he took steps that led to a criminal investigation against then-County Executive Aaron Reardon. Reardon’s former mistress had gone to Somers to report accompanying Reardon on out-of-town business trips. The councilman relayed the information to county prosecutors, who requested a Washington State Patrol investigation. No criminal charges were filed against Reardon, though the probe further battered his reputation. Reardon resigned in May after members of his staff were implicated in secret efforts to harass the executive’s political enemies.

Vallo, 55, has lived in Snohomish County since his family moved to Everett while he was in elementary school. He’s lived in Lake Stevens for about 25 years.

Until recently, Vallo had a telecommunications career in the field of network engineering operations. He left about a year ago, after turning down chances to relocate out of state. He’s had a real estate license for more than 20 years.

If elected, Vallo said public safety would top his priority list. For Vallo, that means supporting law enforcement and prosecutors. He also promises to focus on improving U.S. 2 traffic safety, something other elected leaders have worked on for decades.

“We’ve waited far too long,” Vallo said. “The roads haven’t gotten any better.”

By early this week, Somers’ campaign had raised nearly $88,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Vallo’s campaign had nearly $6,000.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Snohomish County Council District 5

The job

At stake is a four-year term serving in the county’s legislative body. The annual salary is about $106,000.

The district covers eastern Snohomish County, including the city of Snohomish, Monroe, Maltby, Sultan, Gold Bar and Index.

Dave Somers

Hometown: Unincorporated Snohomish County, near Monroe

Age: 60

Party affiliation: Democrat

Experience: Three terms in Snohomish County Council’s District 5 (two consecutive terms); fisheries biologist; master’s degree in forest ecology from the University of Washington

Web site: www.davesomers.org

Chris Vallo

Hometown: Lake Stevens

Age: 55

Party affiliation: Republican

Experience: Licensed real estate broker; former engineering manager for operations at Frontier Communications; volunteer board member and coach with the Lake Stevens Junior Athletic Association; current board member with the Boy Scouts of America’s Mount Baker Council.

Web site: www.vote4vallo.com

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